Doing the Bad Ending Well: Red Dead Redemption

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The second game to fall before the might of The Quest happens to be Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar’s 2010 mix of Grand Theft Auto gameplay and the Western genre.  This game’s pretty well known, so if you’re looking for an opinion piece on it, that ground’s already covered.  If you want the Aether take in particular, I didn’t like it that much.  Even when I was in the mood for a good rooty tooty point and shooty, I found this wide open sandbox to be full of things to do but very little that was worth doing.  But that’s not why I’m here today.  I want to talk about one of the parts of the game that I did like, the ending.  And I want to talk about why I like it.  Because that’s a weird space for me.  The ending to Red Dead Redemption does a few things that I normally absolutely despise when video game endings do it, but they work for me here.  Let’s explore why that is.

Suffice to say, I am going to spoil the hell out of Red Dead Redemption’s ending.  If you haven’t beaten the game yet and you’d still like to, I wouldn’t click that ‘Read More’ button.

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Demon’s Souls

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Moving into the next stage of my quest to defeat all the games I own, I knew the first game I conquered had to be a statement piece. Something that would make all the other games of this generation, who had been previously watching from the sidelines, quake in fear knowing the unstoppable domination that was coming for them. It was very purposeful that the first game of this generation I chose to target was perhaps the harbinger of a wave of pointedly very difficult games, Demon’s Souls.

I did a bit of research online before diving into this game. From what I understood, the goal of this game was to ‘git gud’. Every single challenge everyone brought up was met with the command from other players to simply git more gud. So by my understanding, as you defeat the challenges throughout the game, you collect more and more gud, and once you collect enough of this ‘gud’, the magic governing this world then transforms your player character into an amazing asshole that posts on the internet without providing anything of value.

Hmm… maybe I’m halfway there already.

Luckily, playing the game, I found that the internet has a very different understanding of the game than what it actually has to offer.

Demon’s Souls is Dark Souls’ somewhat less cool older brother. I love the Souls series’ design philosophy, the idea of building a huge challenge, but having it all centered around the idea that no matter how skilled a player they are, with enough preparation, practice, and patience, anyone can beat any challenge therein. That’s absolutely interesting to me. Things are absolutely tough in Demon’s Souls. At no point is success a given, and there are always true threats available. But everything is made to be overcome. Things are hard, but never overwhelming.

Demon’s Souls also carries with it a very interesting variation in combat design too, one that did carry over to later games. In nearly every combat oriented game out there, offense is key. In most games, your main advantage over AI characters is not that you’re better equipped or innately stronger than they are, although that is often true. It’s that you’re more aggressive than they are. You will launch more attacks per unit of time as one person than they will as a whole horde. You will attack while dodging. You will attack while navigating obstacles. You will attack while maneuvering between cover. You will attack when you wake up, when you eat your breakfast, when you brush your teeth, when you go to work, and every single moment throughout your day, your attacks are key.

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The Twitch Desktop App, Reviewed by Someone Who Doesn’t Care About Twitch

So Twitch’s Desktop App has joined my computer as the fifth in an increasingly difficult to manage amount of games clients on my PC. Now, I don’t really care about Twitch. Nothing personal. If you enjoy it, more power to you. I’m just not much for the whole livestreaming deal. I love let’s plays. Don’t care for livestreaming. Figure that out.

So why did I pick up the app? The games, man. Apparently Twitch sells games. Been doing that for less than a year. And, if you’ve got Amazon Prime, they started giving you a monthly bundle of games. I remember hearing some noise when Amazon made the acquisition of Twitch a while back, but I think I speak on behalf of the entire video games community when I say that giving me, specifically, new games is a good way to ingratiate yourself to everybody.

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And, you know, it’s a legit set of games. I don’t know about you, but when I found out about it, I was completely expecting it to be a bunch of garbage games. I mean, the free TV you get off Amazon Prime seems to be getting weaker every year, I was expecting the games to be the same way. But no. Sure, I already owned like half the games I’ve picked up through this arrangement on other platforms, but you can take that as an indication of the selection’s quality. Your main man has some discriminating tastes. You seem to get a bit of a mix of games, from the somewhat older mainstream releases to the creative indie title to the niche and relatively unknown left field games. Some of them are still filling gaps in the collection. I’m still kicking myself that I missed out on Mr. Shifty from not realizing I could claim games through this service the first month it was available, and although High Hell is not one I had ever thought would make its way to my collection, now that it’s there I’m having a he…..ck of a good time with it.

Of course, this is a new client on offer, joining the likes of GOG Galaxy and Uplay and Origin and the juggernaut of Steam. As far as I can tell, the Twitch Desktop App has only been around since last August, less than a year going. So, what’s it actually like?

Pretty featureless, in all. Which, granted, I’m sure it’s made more for the livestreaming than necessarily the gaming, right now. Maybe that matters to you. As I mentioned before, I don’t care. It still seems to be a work in progress. In the few weeks I’ve been playing around with it, it’s been updated three times, so I’m guessing it’s still seeing a fair bit of development. But really, it will install games on your computer and let you play them. That’s about it.

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Installation works fine. Speed seems relatively comparable to the big boy clients. You don’t have the ability to pause downloads, however. That’s not a problem for me with the small games, the indie titles, or the classics from yesteryear. It’s going to limit its utility for the modern AAA releases, though. At least for me. When I’m downloading a 60 GB game to my computer, well, I live in one of those places where you can actually see the stars at night, so on the flip side, internet speed isn’t the greatest. It takes a while. And I’m not really willing to completely dedicate my internet use to one thing over the next 14 hours. I stop large downloads when I need to do something on the internet, then start them up again when I’m occupied with something else. Wouldn’t be able to do that on Twitch.

The game’s shop is about as bare bones as you can get. The selection isn’t great. Around 200 games, which sounds like a lot, but when you start looking for that one specific game you’re craving, it’s going to seem all too small. The selection is so small there’s not any way to sort through them. They just give you a list of games in roughly alphabetical order, and leave it to you to find what you’re looking for. No organizing by genre, no search function, nada. For whatever reason, they don’t even display prices on the shop screen either. You have to click through to the game’s page to find out what they’re offering it for. Or if Twitch is even selling it at all; some games only sell add-ons through Twitch, to get the full game, you have to buy from another site.

For that matter, you can’t buy games through the client itself. You click the shop button, it just opens the window in your browser. You can’t claim your Amazon Prime goodies through the client either. All browser-based.

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One thing that I think is unique about the Twitch App is that it’s got a dedicated area for managing mods. Only for a handful of games, seemingly, and only for the selection of mods that are uploaded to Twitch, but you don’t need the games to be in your Twitch library to enjoy this benefit. Twitch pretty easily picked up a couple of games I had installed through Steam, and I can seemingly integrate mods simply enough through this service. I’m not really a big mod gamer, but I still found this rather interesting.

Playing the game… you’re just playing the game. Twitch has no overlay here. Which is fine, most services don’t, I think Steam’s a little unique in that regard. I was surprised by this, I would have expected Twitch to provide some streaming features, or at least easy screenshot functionality, but hey, for all I know they do and I just haven’t found it yet.

One last minor irritation, the client doesn’t actually close with you ‘X’ out of it. It just minimizes. Granted, Uplay’s the only client kind enough to close entirely when you ‘X’ out, Origin, Galaxy, and Steam all still run in the background, but it is bizarrely frustrating to me to see Twitch hanging out on my task bar at all times unless I take the extra step of exiting entirely. It’s a feature that makes very little difference whatsoever, but it’s still hitting me on a visceral level.

So yeah, that’s the Twitch Desktop App. As a client to get those monthly games you get through Amazon Prime onto your computer and let you play them, it’s perfectly fine. Missing some convenience features, but it’s totally functional. If it wants to stand on its own as a gaming client, it’s got some work to do. The developers do seem to be working on that, a little bit at a time. But it’s going to take some time to get there. I hope it does have the longevity to last, though. The closure of the Wii Shop has found my trust in marketplaces somewhat shaken, and I’d hate to see these new games I’ve been able to add to my collection get cut off from me.

Switchery

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Looks like Santa brought me a gift early. A peace offering, he called it. I see through his lies, though. I made my way out of his devil’s workshop with the loot in hand. Always careful, always wary, I checked it over for traps a hundred times. I’m still not sure there isn’t any sort of trick to it. But still, it’s hard to turn down a brand new Nintendo Switch.

It’s odd, but there’s a lot about the Switch that doesn’t translate over until you see it in person. I think part of that may be coming from Nintendo’s recent track record with consoles, where, while they didn’t quite overpromise and underdeliver and definitely have some quality experiences on there, still always felt like they should be something more than they were. The Wii didn’t have quite the detailed motion controls everyone hoped for, the Wii U didn’t have the games that took the hardware features to the limits, there was just a small amount of untapped potential with both of them.

It’s still new enough that I might yet be getting a touch of that new car smell off of it, so I may be changing this opinion in the future, but so far, it feels like the Switch is living up to every bit of what I expected of it.

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Let’s start with the base hardware. The thing is tiny. It’s a little bit thicker than your average tablet, but not by much. It doesn’t seem like there’s much room for the actual console in there, it’s all taken up by the screen. And yet it does. It packs quite the powerful machine within that small space. Graphics aren’t quite as good as the PSBone, but the few games I’ve played off it so far are able to to build things a definite step up over last generation, all within full and complex settings that, much like most of the rest of Nintendo’s offerings, are processed with very little stuttering and load times. Resolution on the Switch screen itself isn’t as high as on TV obviously, or even on many tablets, but it’s still high enough to make things look niiiiiice.

So if you know anything about me, you know that I’m a gorgeously huge sexy mangod. And that means I have gorgeously huge sexy mangod hands. A lot of Nintendo’s offerings don’t fit comfortably in my hands. The Wiimote’s sized pretty nicely for me, but I have difficulty positioning myself comfortably on the Wii U’s gamepad and the 3DS will actually cause me pain if I’m playing it for too long. When I first saw how tiny the Switch’s controllers were, I was worried I’d be running into the same thing here. Especially with the placement of the d-pad and buttons, I did not have much hope for good things there. Yet, I don’t know what it is about their design or ergonomics, but I’ve played for hours at a stretch and had absolutely no problems with it. Slotting the controllers into the… uh… controller attachment… the one that holds them like a traditional controller, that gets a little tighter than I’d like, but it’s still about as comfortable as the average Playstation gamepad. Playing with both of the joycons free has been my preference, and that’s about as liberating as it gets. The controllers are surprisingly small and light, but have a decent rumble to them, and they actually have better motion sensors than the Wiimote did. They’re lacking an IR pointer, which was the best part of the Wiimote, but I’ve still been able to finely aim things just using the motion controls.

One downside, the system has the weakest wireless receiver of any machine I’ve encountered lately. I keep my TV a couple of rooms away from my router, and although my laptop, consoles, and phone all have absolutely no problem connecting there, the Switch has a tenuous connection with the internet there at best. It’s a good thing the system’s mobile, because I had to take it all the way across my house just so it had enough reception to properly download anything. I thought it was broken at first. On top of that, I don’t know if this is a problem with the receiver or the controller, but the Switch does not always have the best connection with the right joycon. If I let my hands drop to my lap, or my aforementioned mangod hands cover up part of the bottom of the controller, my body will block the console from getting signal from that joycon. If that happens in the middle of a hot fight or tough platforming section, it pretty quickly spells doom.

Moving it from console to handheld mode is even easier than I dreamed. Thing doesn’t so much plug into the tv mount as it does rest comfortably on the connectors, so taking it out is a process that’s needlessly simple. It does take a bit of doing to mount and disengage the controllers, but nothing much really. And just like with the Wii U, I didn’t think that I’d enjoy having a mobile console, but surprisingly, I do. I never thought my lifestyle required it, but it is really handy being able to take my game into the other room when the orcs across the street get too whiny about how I spoiled their latest pillaging run or when my hordes of amorous suitors won’t stop calling me to the bedroom. Get to take care of those mild meatspace annoyances, while still bringing my all important virtual worlds with me.

Of course, no matter how good the console is, it’s all about the games on it. The console is a tool. It’s the artist’s palette, the playwright’s quill, the videographer’s camera. It’s necessary, yes, and determines a large amount of what the creators are capable of, but it’s really the creators themselves that determine what’s done with it. And there, I’m cautiously optimistic.

I’ve been a die-hard Nintendo fanboy for most of my life, up until Nintendo had that phase in the middle of the Wii generation where I wasn’t in the target market anymore. Then, Nintendo’s consoles just became one of the myriad array of gaming devices to me. My loyalty dropped, but in so doing, my world broadened. There were a lot of experiences out there, and once I started exploring them, my gaming habits became a lot more diverse. And I’m glad for that. Nintendo still makes some great games. They cultivate some fantastic experiences, and are truly one of the best developers in the industry. Their games are what’s kept them in the console race for so long. But, as the Wii U has shown, if you’re buying a Nintendo console, you have to be prepared to only get Nintendo games for it.

And that does take a lot of faith. And it’s one of the reasons why I was so cautious to pick it up until recently. I did get a Wii U at the very end of its production, but even now, after all the games have come out for it, the only creators that have put out a number of games I care about for it are Nintendo themselves and Platinum Games, who were contracted with Nintendo for those. I wasn’t willing to do so again, dropping a couple hundred on the Switch and only have Nintendo’s properties for it. But I did so, and so far, Nintendo’s the one that’s had any major releases for it.

Why did I do so? Well, for one, the Switch is showing more promise than the Wii U had. A lot of people claim that the Wii wasn’t a ‘real gamer’s’ machine, because they’re dumb. The Wii didn’t have the major releases the consoles of its generation had, but it had a lot more smaller, creative, experimental titles from a wide variety of developers, all of which brought some really nice quality to the console. The Wii U didn’t have that. Its sales numbers meant that niche titles being brought to the system had a long way to go to reach the levels where they could draw a decent profit, whereas PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 had a much more stable install base. I’m trusting in Switch’s surprisingly high sales thus far to take it closer to where the Wii was. It seems to have come out of nowhere for a lot of developers, much like the Wii did, but I’m hoping that once again, they’ll take notice of the Switch’s place in the market, and be bringing a lot more of the types of gaming experiences we saw a couple generations ago to us. It’s a gamble on my part, particularly as Nintendo has always struggled with relationships with other developers, but one that I’m hoping will pay off.

That gamble is somewhat mitigated by the fact that Nintendo seems to have more of a cohesive vision for this console. They’re still marching to the beat of their own drum, like they always do, but they seem to have much more of an idea which way they’re wanting to go. And they’ve been bringing the games to back it.

I’m imagining it’s going to take me a while to build my Switch library. I’m a notorious bargain hunter, and the Switch is still so new that game prices haven’t dropped yet. Moreover, with the biggest releases for the console coming from Nintendo, who are very aggressive in maintaining their games’ prices in a way few other publishers could manage and in the face of conventional economics, I might have to be on the prowl before finding deals I’m satisfied with. I’ve only picked up two games so far; Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Super Mario Odyssey. But those games. Some of the best I’ve played recently.

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Nintendo gets a lot of flak for running wild with the franchising, which is ridiculous, because they mix their gameplay models up withing these franchises a lot more than nearly any other developer out there. Breath of the Wild is a great example of that. It is very, very different than most any other Zelda game you’ve played before. So much so, that it feels like it could be its very own game. It’s a 3D Zelda that largely eschews the gameplay model the series has been using since Ocarina of Time, building something completely new out of it. And although the mechanics, storytelling, styling, everything like that are all so new they’ve still got that new car smell, the game still feels a lot like playing the original Zelda 1 way back in the day did.

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And Super Mario Odyssey. I’m not going to go the full review here, you can probably catch what I would say any other place on the internet. But I will state that I get the same feeling playing this as I did from Ocarina of Time back in the day. You can tell this is something very, very special as you’re playing it, a rare piece of excellence that only comes around every so often. This is the best Mario has been since 64, and given how great some of the other games to come out have been, that’s really saying something. I would be surprised if this has as much impact on the medium as Ocarina of Time did, we’re just not in a place where that’s generally going to happen anymore, but I do get a similar feeling that this is a game people are going to be talking about and coming back to for a long, long time.

Beyond that, there’s some fun stuff to look forward to, even outside Nintendo’s standards. Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Shin Megami Tensei V, whatever Octopath Traveller ends up being, there’s some real promise with this console. I really, really hope it ends up seeing that through.

Lagging Behind on the Leading Ladies, Part 3: The Creative Side

Introduction

Business Perspective

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It’s that time again! Time to talk about how I don’t get to play like a girl as much as I want to, and look into possible means as for why that is.

Today, we’re going to talk about the creative aspect of having women as leading characters in your video games. And it’s purely going to be about the art of making video game women, in a vacuum. We’re not going to discuss the impact audience reception has on creating just yet, that’s going to be a topic for our next post in this series, when we’re talking about the social factors. Most creators do create for their audience, but if we start working that in alongside everything else we’re talking about the lines between this post and the next post will blur and then I’d have to write the two of them together and I am too monumentally lazy right now to do that. So yeah, just focusing on the creative side of things today, looking at things from the perspective of the designer, not considering the marketing or receptive aspects of these.

This didn’t come up so much in the last post we did in this series, but at it’s core, the whole issue behind gender representation and everything else we’ll talk about here stems from the way we as a culture look at gender identity. So let’s talk a bit about that first.

I’m going to say I’m pretty experienced at being a man. I’ve got a lot of experience at that. Enough that I have pretty much mastered the art of physically being a man. On top of that, I’ve known plenty of women throughout the course of my life. Taken in their stories, their personalities, their… eh, let’s keep this G-rated. Never been a women, but I’ve observed them plenty. On top of that, as I continually demonstrate through this blog, I am a genius. My thinking is just of a top-tier quality.

What I’m saying is I have absolutely the highest credentials to talk about matters of gender. Accept no substitutes. My word on this is the best-informed you will ever see. And I’m telling you that men and women just aren’t all that different. Naturally, we barely have anything between us. Personality-wise, we in general have a few different drives, usually related to partnering or evolutionally instilled upon us from a period of life that we’ve outgrown faster than our biology has, but aside from that, we’re basically the same. Yes, we have some biological, hormonal, and brain developmental differences, but the differences account for so little proportion of who we are. Men and women have far more in common than we realize. Stripped of everything else, we all have basically the same capacity for caring, for aggression, for nurturing, and for enjoying video games.

But cultures in general do not recognize that. That’s one of the human absolutes, every single known human culture has developed a distinction between gender roles because people in general have a hard time not getting blinded by obvious distinctions. It’s human nature, in an attempt to understand people we attempt to see them as instant wholes based on the most obvious characteristics, rather than taking the time to figure out their individual features and building our concept of them around that. This creates expectations. Implicit, unstated expectations of how different genders are supposed to act, instilled in us since birth, and the mold by which we’re supposed to grow up into. Which is ridiculous. You cannot define a single personality trait or feature that reasonably applies to a full half of the human population. But cultures try. And in so doing, they create more differences between the genders than actually exists.

And that has negative impacts on both sides of the coin. Those impacts don’t always reach a one-to-one match, but the defined gender roles are hurting both men and women in different ways.

But still, it persists. That’s both the cause of what we’ll be talking about today, and the whole reason I’m writing this post series in general.

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The Witch’s House

It’s the season for it, right? Picking up some good, spookifying tales of your medium of choice. Seems to be one of the funnest things about fall for a lot of people.

This year around, even I, who am convinced that time is an illusion created by the greeting card industry, got into the horror season. Now, I’ve had an odd relationship with the horror genre. I really can’t put my finger on why, but I just stopped feeling it. Haven’t been getting the thrill, chills, and spills that people so much enjoy about it. Even so, I wanted to revisit those feelings this year. See if I could find a hint of that point of being deliciously disturbed.

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So I picked up the Witch’s House. Freeware puzzle horror game made in RPG Maker by Fummy, officially translated into English by vgperson. “Freeware RPG Maker horror game?” I hear you ask. “Those are all over the place. What makes this one so unique.” Just hold your horses. I’m getting to that. Patience is a virtue, you know.

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State of the Quest

We’re going to be posting a bit differently, here at Lost to the Aether, for at least the near future. Your main man was wounded recently, and while it’s not anything you should be worrying about, the effects of this do mean that I’m having a harder time focusing and putting the kind of thought I usually do into these posts. I should be able to make a full recovery with time, but until then, well, the content’s just going to be a little different around here, more in line with my presently diminished capacity. So, you know, fair warning. I hope you’re into it. I hope I’m into it, too.

Today I’m going to go back to an old standby and talk about myself. I’m good at that. Specifically, my little gaming quest. I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, once upon a time, I got the odd idea in my head that I was going to beat all of my games. All of them. I’ve been collecting games since I was a cub, I’ve got a lot of them. I give myself a bit of a break when the game is too glitchy to progress, or in the very, extremely, infinitesimally rare case I’m not skilled enough to beat a game, but overall, if I own it, I will beat it. I’m going through my entire collection, with games grouped by the console generation they released in, and by hook or by crook beating every single game I own.

This little quest has been an interesting one. Some games I never would have given the chance I did, some games I found that I enjoyed in a different way, and some games, playing them this way has actually given to my perspective of them. This quest has certainly changed the way I value games and the experiences contained therein.

But have I mentioned that I have a lot of games? Because I have a lot of games. The NES era took me a few weeks to play through. SNES took me several months. The N64/PS generation took me about a year to clean out. The PlayBoxCube era? I have been at this for years. Many years. Too many years. Longer than I’d care to admit. Children have been born into my family since I started, and have now grown old enough that I can have a sensible conversation with them. It’s been a long time. Part of which is that this was the generation I started making an income in, then one that I filled in later when I started picking up the other consoles for cheap, so my collection is perhaps the largest in this area. Part of it is that there are just so many JRPGs on these consoles bloody hell and they all take like 40 hours minimum to beat.

But for all the causes, I’m most of the way through. I estimate that I’ll be through the rest of this console generation and on to the next, hopefully not so long one, in about a year. That might be a bit optimistic of me, but still, pretty close. I’m excited.

I thought I’d take a look at all the rest of the games ahead of me. What do I have coming up, what shall soon be moving through the life of Aether, what more must I conquer before the next milestone. Because sometimes, it’s just fun to get organized.

Currently Playing

Tales of the Abyss

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So of all the games I haven’t beaten yet on this quest, this one is one of my favorites. The Tales series has, overall, been pretty solid ever since Tales of Symphonia, and Tales of the Abyss shows the developers in rare form. The Tales series has spent the past decade and a half really strong in terms of characterization, oddly charming technobabble, and in pointedly subverting common storytelling tropes, and Tales of the Abyss showcases some of the best the series has to offer. Mixing the typical JRPG wayfaring and dungeon diving with a fast-paced Smash Bros-esque combat engine keeps the experience feeling really varied and fresh. They don’t really add much new to the mechanics here over previous installments, and the new features they do add seem largely circumstantial, but the mechanics are very solid. I’m having a good time with it.

Also, I get to play as a left hander in this game. How often do I get to do that?

Summoner: A Goddess Reborn

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The other game I’m currently playing is one of the best games I have left on my list. This one is one of the worst.

Which I suppose if this is the bottom of the barrel, the barrel’s not really that bad. Summoner: A Goddess Reborn is no Fur Fighters, or Turok: Evolution, or Fallout Tactics. It’s not the type of game that actively offends me for its existence. It’s just… kind of bad.

You remember when THQ made RPGs? Yeah, those were always kind of quirky titles, none of them actually very good. This is along those lines. I’m actually really interested in the lore and the world. It’s obvious the developers put a lot of time and thought into those. I just wish they put as much into their engine and presentation. Gameplay is as slow and clunky as my uncle’s pinto. When it goes bad, it gets about as explosively horrible, too. Graphics and sound are poor, and the art design is all over the place. It’s world is interesting, but it’d take a better game to keep me around if I wasn’t forcing myself to.

I’m a little worried that I may not actually be capable of taking this game the whole way through. Most of the time, strategy or skill makes at least a bit of a difference to how well combat goes, but when the game hits its bad points, that goes out the window and there’s not a whole lot to do except button-mash and hope it works out for you. I haven’t been completely stopped yet, but I’m worried that I’ll run into one of those bottle-necks where skill or preparation doesn’t matter and the odds are too stacked against me to make any headway, and that’ll be a really unsatisfying end to this run.

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